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When Carly stood up for me

27 November 2017

A new librarian smiled from behind the children’s desk.   New to me – she had been working there for some time.  Maybe because they rearranged the children’s section or maybe because my daughter was now a volunteer, I no longer found myself approaching the children’s desk with her in tow, and had not properly met some of the newer librarians.   Little did I know that it was I, not my daughter, who would receive invaluable help from her.

So when I saw her at the desk I merely smiled back and went on my way. If I noticed the scarf she wore around her head, I perhaps thought it was a religious head covering and thought nothing of it.  I came to know that her name was Carly B, mainly because she was not Carly R., who supervised the library volunteers.

Last November I noticed that she wore a safety pin on her cardigan.  I had read about the symbolic safety pin, that offered reassurance and solidarity in case one felt vulnerable or targetted under the new regime, be it Brexit in the UK or “Brexit++” as Trump touted his own campaign in the US.  Indeed, within days of the election, it became evident that open discrimination and ostracization was on the rise.

No matter how much you hear about these things, though, there is a tendency not to be prepared for anything to happen to you. So when much to my own surprise, the day came that I faced this myself, stopped while walking in my own neighborhood and questioned by the police whether I was “here illegally,” I sought out allies one by one.

I was considering speaking publicly about the incident at the Bel Air Town Hall.  My family and a couple of friends were ready to come in support.  A few others I told also expressed shock and outrage.  I wondered who would show up if I spoke at the town meeting. I can still remember cautiously approaching this softspoken librarian who wore the safety pin. I was standing near the shelves in the middle school section. I told her about what happened. She listened compassionately and offered to share my story with some other librarians, including some from other branches, who would likely come in support as well.

jake-chat-e1511714265368The next morning I got a message from one of those librarians, whose mother happens to be my best friend from high school.  He worked at the Aberdeen branch of the library.   I started calling more people.   My mom called her friend, who invited me to share my story in her church, and several people there said that they would come.  A local action group, Together We Will, had recently formed and I talked about it there as well.

At the next town hall meeting, the room was full.  In the video, you can see here that one of the first who stands up and leads the gathered folks in a standing ovation is Carly Bastiansen.

I later learned that she was struggling with cancer.  After I became her facebook friend I would read about her hospital visits, which she always wrote about with great courage, compassion for herself and her family, realism about her prognosis and in spite of it all, optimism about every day that she survived.

A few days ago, she passed away.  In the short time I knew her, she made a deep impression on me and nearly everyone I have talked to since hearing this news has said something similar.

A compassionate soul, ready to help others, whether in finding a book or speaking truth to power, she exemplified what a librarian should be.

Her family shared this message:

Carly requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network at pancan.org/donate or through the mail at 1500 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 200, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266. You can designate your gift in memory of Carly Bastiansen. Pancan is matching donations through 11/28.

Carly told us and David Monday that she wanted to donate her organs and tissue to Johns Hopkins to help continue research into fighting pancreatic cancer. Carly’s ultimate donation, and any monetary donations we’re willing to make, will have a big impact.

Thanks on behalf of Carly and all those dealing with this tough disease.”

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